Associate Editor, AZAD ESSA explains the aims of “South Africa Votes 2014”.
I wish I could say it was a warm summer’s evening by the water’s edge, with only a lazy sunset and the sweet rustle of birds in the nearby trees for company when the idea struck. But the idea of “South Africa Votes 2014” did not arrive in a flash.
The idea came in gradual wafts of the realisation of the agonising prejudice of South African media on the political dynamics of the country.
First came the continual barrage of service delivery protests that were ignored – except to report main roads were blockaded with burning tyres by some people from some settlement wanting homes, or water, or something- “so expect traffic”.
Then came Marikana. And our media battled to find its feet to tell the stories of the actual people who had embarked on the strike.
With some notable exceptions, the people impacted by the daily tragedy on our streets seemed voiceless in our media.
And with all these thoughts swirling in my head, there was the knowledge too, that a landmark election was fast approaching. A twenty year anniversary for the “new” South Africa was already stamped on the calendar but we seemed tangled in rhetoric: The anti-ANC/ZUMA media and the pro-government, nostalgic lot. Both unfair. Both delusional.
Both past their sell-by-date.
In many ways, there is a disconnect between the people and the English speaking media in this country, as we know it. The country is changing, but is the media reflecting these shifts – either in demographic, ideals or questions that people, especially the young, are asking?
Consider how our president and his administration is covered.
President Zuma’s administration needs to be held to account for the decisions of his government. Yes. Totally. But when last did you read about the lives of the people his mistakes affect most? Their voices aew simply ignored, their experiences swept aside in a chorus of righteous indignation over his misdemeanours.
It is a startling paradox.
Little wonder then, that his administration, ANC-supporters can call upon “racism” at the drop of a Kanga?
Meanwhile, there are more young people in this country than we know what to do with – and their disinterest in politics is dangerous, even if it might be painfully easy to understand.
Besides, the sushi-shows, the celebrity-orgasms, there is little that speaks to them.
Let me rephrase that: there is little that relates to them, or represents them in South African media.
The English speaking media speaks an antiquated language. It talks of the past, be it resentfully or gleefully, and speaks of the present with spite, or favour.
But it’s not just the young who are under represented.
For far too long has public opinion been directed, manipulated by media houses, political analysts, academics and think tanks.
Where is the South African public voice in all of this?
Where are their needs listed, described without interruption, without prognosis?
Where is their unedited sentiment framed, without the coating of a Castle Lager ad?
Sometimes, it’s not just the politicians who forget that though ordinary people might revere symbols, ideas, and memories, it is dignity they crave most.
The basics of a decent wage, secure housing and sanitation, equal rights and fair governance – remain universal ambitions.
South Africa Votes 2014 – over the next three months – will focus almost exclusively on the voices drowned out by the din of election campaigning that is about to begin across our nine provinces.
It is of course a big ask.
But we hope to keep the voices speaking, and genuine street sentiment at the centre of our discussions here. Our intention is drive the election story through the voices of South Africans – of all spaces.
As a collection of journalists, we are an independent project, not linked to any political establishment, nor any media house.
This is your election. This is your platform. This is your community.
If you have a story to tell, feel free to contact us – via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook or twitter (@SAVotes2014)
Besides, memory is most lucid in the voice of the first person account and not in the historical recollection of a scholar, no matter how object they might pretend to be.
For now this website is in a “beta” phase. Over the next few weeks we’ll be welcoming more contributors, adding more content, doing our best to give you a street view of South Africa’s election. Stay tuned. Get involved.
Azad Essa is a journalist at Al Jazeera covering Sub Saharan Africa. He is also the author of Zuma’s Bastard (Two Dogs, 2010) and The Moslems are Coming (Harper Collins India, 2012). Follow him on Twitter.